We are pleased to present an insight into the textiles recycling industry from Aimee Campanella, Stock Acquisition Manager at Bristol Textile Recyclers (BTR).
Founded in 1972, BTR is a family run business based in St Philips Marsh, Bristol which diverts 20 tonnes of textiles from landfill daily. The diverted textiles consist of unsellable donations from charity shops which BTR purchase by the kilo, helping charities further fundraise for their beneficiaries and to keep their stock rooms clear for new donations.
In addition to charity shops, BTR also helps other organisations fundraise through recycling including schools, Scouts, Guides and various clubs. This is done by organising clothing drives and through recycling banks for the local community to help.
Once the 20 tonnes of textiles are brought back to the factory each day, the BTR team assess each item by hand to determine the garments reusability. Each item is separated into over 160 different categories depending on what the item is and the condition it is in, determining where it goes next:
12.5% - UK for reuse or recycling
0.5% - Eastern Europe for reuse
68% - Central Africa for reuse
19% - South Asia for reuse
Zero textiles to landfill
Only reusable textiles are exported by BTR with all non-reusable textiles being recycled in the UK, resulting in zero textiles going to landfill. The non-reusable textiles that are 100% cotton, such as t-shirts, towels and sweatshirts, are recycled into cleaning cloth known as ‘wiper’.
Out of the 12.5% of textiles that stay in the UK, 9% are recycled into wiper and 3% are used for Energy from Waste (EfW). This process is a form of energy recovery that produces electricity and/or heat from combustion.
Clothing contains a mix of biogenic and fossil carbon (i.e. cotton/polyester mixes). When placed in landfill, fossil carbon stays in the ground and does not break down. The biogenic material does break down however, into carbon dioxide and methane. The carbon dioxide is converted to landfill gas to be captured and burnt, generating energy. The methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, escapes into the atmosphere. It is for this reason that EfW has a lower greenhouse gas impact than landfill, making it the preferred option for managing waste to minimise potential climate change impact.
Reducing clothing miles
There are 4,825 garment factories in Bangladesh that produce goods for export. This industry generates 80% of the country’s total export revenue. These garments travel almost 5,000km to be bought and worn by UK consumers via retailers on the high street. There are many outlets to recycle unwanted clothing including donating to a local charity shop, textile bank or placing in the weekly kerbside collection. Eventually the items end up with a textile recycler like BTR before being exported, traveling another 5,000km to be reused abroad.
It is time to think about reducing clothing miles and BTR are taking measures to keep more textiles in the UK by increasing their UK sales.
The remaining 0.5% of textiles from BTR that stay in the UK are sold to wholesalers that are looking for vintage, quirky and retro clothing to resell in their stores, or to upcycle for resale. To help increase UK sales, BTR holds monthly kilo sale events where the public can come in and buy clothing for only £6 per kilo. With no minimum to buy and tonnes of textiles to choose from, there is something for everyone at the events; provided you are ready to roll up your sleeves and rummage to find the hidden gems! Upcoming event dates are available on the BTR website.
Working towards a circular clothing economy
Although only reusable textiles are exported to South Asia, many of the garments will be recycled by reclaiming their fibres and spinning them into yarn to make blankets, shawls or fabrics. International aid organisations comprise one of the largest buyers, ordering millions of emergency relief blankets for disasters worldwide. The documentary Unravel provides further insight into what happens next when the textiles arrive in places such as Panipat, India.
In the UK, Worn Again focuses on closed loop solutions to textile waste and is developing technology to process textiles back into new yarn to make clothes again and again.
Worn Again and BTR Ltd are amongst other retailers, recyclers and charities who have pledged to measure and reduce their carbon footprints by 15% by 2020 as part of the SCAP 2020 Commitment. The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) focuses on diverting textiles from landfill through behaviour change.
In the EU, Circular Economy and Recover are working together to understand the value of textile recycling and to develop closed loop solutions. This would create a system where fibres are continuously recovered, significantly reducing resources used to manufacture virgin material.
Discover more for yourself
BTR provides free tours for groups of up to 7 persons. If you would like to learn more and visit the factory, please contact the team by phone on 01179 717349 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pricing information on the current average value of used textiles in the UK as well as historical data is also available from Lets Recycle.
What do you think about the closing the loop in the fashion industry, SCAP or the BTR kilo sales? Please share your thoughts using the comment box below!
About the Author
Aimee Campanella is BTR’s Stock Acquisition Manager with her primary focus on decreasing textiles to landfill by increasing the tonnage of textiles BTR collects. Previously in the printing and hospitality industry, since joining the team in 2013 Aimee’s clothing consumption habits have completely changed from being a traditional high street shopper to now never buying new.
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